The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) spent $6 million preparing for the same-sex marriage plebiscite before it was killed off by the Senate earlier this year.

In an interview with Huffington Post Australia last week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull suggested that a plebiscite to resolve the issue of same-sex marriage was still his policy, despite a growing push within his own party for a free vote in the Parliament on the issue. But the government’s mid-year economic and fiscal outlook (MYEFO) reveals the government has taken back $154 million of the $160 million allocated to the plebiscite in the 2016-2017 budget in May, meaning the government is currently banking on the plebiscite not returning in the immediate future.

The document reveals that the AEC had already managed to spend $6 million in preparation for the plebiscite, but states that most of this spending can be used for future activities. A recent answer to questions on notice stated most of the money had been spent on stationary and other generic items that can be used in future elections. Crikey filed a freedom of information request to see if the AEC had developed a logo or any signage for the plebiscite, but the response suggested the AEC had not reached the point in its planning where it was developing specific signage for the plebiscite.

The government has abandoned plans to privatise the Australian Securities and Investments Commission registry. There has been a lot of controversy over the government assessing whether to privatise the registry — where the public and journalists can go to access public company documents — for a fee, usually. It was feared that privatisation would increase these fees and reduce transparency. The government said in MYEFO that after assessing the bids, it was not worth it. It will save the government $4.5 million to not proceed with the privatisation.

The Asset Recycling program has also been abandoned. The axing of the program — designed to fund new infrastructure programs from the sale of old ones by state governments — is expected to reduce gross debt by $10 billion by 2019-2020.

As expected, Tony Abbott’s Green Army is being wiped out, saving the government $224.7 million over four years. It will pay out $21.4 million for projects already underway, and $100 million will go back to Landcare as part of the deal with the Greens for the backpacker tax.

It won’t just be backpackers picking fruit, either. The government also announced a $27.2 million trial to get unemployed people to go pick fruit and other seasonal activities and earn up to $5000 per year without losing their unemployment benefits. As part of the two-year trial, they will also receive up to $300 in travel allowances. Those wanting to take part need to have been unemployed for at least three months, and the work area must be more than 120 kilometres from where they live.

MYEFO also revealed the government will spend $3.9 million on more parking for Parliament House — a consistent complaint of people who work in the building — mostly through a reduction in parking revenue from areas nearby Parliament, which will be converted into free parking for the staffers, politicians and journalists who work in the building.

There will also be $35.8 million allocated to fund extra staff for the crossbench, opposition and the Greens, giving them a total 33 extra staff across the board.

A total of $8.1 million has been allocated for a third electorate office and staff for MPs with electorates larger than 350,000 square kilometres.

A sum of $39 million has been allocated to fund investigations arising from the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

The Australian Federal Police is also set to receive $62.3 million to “enhance its technical security capabilities” with more CCTV and personal communications devices.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey